e) Expert testimony of Carlos Arestivo, psychologist Since 1996 the witness has been a member of the Tekojojá Foundation’s Street School Group and of the AMAR project (Asistencia a Menores de Alto Riesgo –Assistance to High-Risk Juveniles). This brought him in constant contact with the so-called “street children” and, by extension, with the detention facilities.
The Center was built as a home for some 15 or 20 people, yet close to 150 juveniles were incarcerated there. The cells were five meters by five meters, each housing some 50 minors. The temperature in the summer was not less than 40 degrees Centigrade and the cells had only one ceiling fan. The inmates had at most two hours of recreation in the patio of the house, which was also overcrowded since it, too, was not very large. The Center’s nauseous odor was unbearable. The kitchen was located across from the public lavatories. The food was not fit for human consumption as it was prepared on the kitchen floor.
Anyone forced to endure this kind of incarceration would suffer psychological consequences. In the case of these children, from the moment they were arrested, they were tortured by the police; the lucky ones are “simply mistreated.” The inmates’ first psychological symptoms surfaced when they were in the hospital and were suffering acute anxiety and insomnia, triggered by the slightest hint of something that might be related to that experience. These juveniles were also diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. At no time were these juveniles given any psychiatric or psychological care; on the contrary, the mistreatment continued and some were transferred to two adult prisons: the Tacumbú Penitentiary and the Emboscada Prison. The latter is a maximum security prison where the most dangerous criminals are generally housed. Some of the inmates asked to be in a security cell to avoid being sexually assaulted or abused.
The most significant after-effects of the fire and the previous and subsequent violations of their rights are the following: their self-esteem is reduced to almost nothing; they become aggressive as a defense mechanism; they worry over the uncertainty of their lot as individuals, about their present and their future; they experience frequent depression; they have difficulty sleeping; they have nightmares; they are afraid; they are fearful that once released, they will have no one and will not have the chance to make an honest living. These are the reasons why they will almost invariably turn to crime again and end up in prison again. These young people are affected both psychologically and socially. Despite everything, they have hopes of changing and believe they can be useful members of society and help others.
In 2001, an unbearable heat made the habitual overcrowding all the more difficult to tolerate. When they could no longer bear that dreadful situation, the inmates protested by setting fire to some mattresses. The fire spread quickly. The cellblock doors were locked and the guards were unable to find the key. The smoke and the high temperature began to suffocate the inmates. Despite their screams of pain and desperation, the inmates did not get immediate help, since the guards had not even called the firefighters. Some inmates fainted and collapsed. The inmates continued to scream, begging for help, while some bodies burned. One of the young people said that the smell of burned flesh mixed with the smoke and heat was unbearable. Some inmates managed to get out through a small opening they made in the roof. Once they had escaped the flames, they were taken to the hospital in ambulances.
For the young people who were incarcerated at the Center to be able to easily re-adapt to life in society, they would have to live, from the outset, in a safe place, where they are treated humanely and with affection; they also need to spend a reasonable period of time in psychological and affective recuperation – in other words, healing the affective and emotional wounds they suffered – and they have to feel useful to restore their self-esteem. In short, they need an environment where they can re-adapt in every positive sense. This environment might be an institution that concerns itself with problems of this type, where the young people can study to have a solid base and learn some activity they can perform that reinforces a sense of dignity and gets them back into mainstream society.
The young people must also have psychotherapy, to enable them to reflect upon their lives and then build a new and different life project. Finally, to provide for these pressing needs and enable these young people to rejoin society, the State must ensure them a pension as reparations, as they have hopes of being able to get international assistance.
70. On March 31, 2004, in response to the President’s March 2, 2004 order (supra para. 42),12 the representatives sent the affidavits given by witnesses Dirma Monserrat Peña, Clemente Luis Escobar González, Arsenio Joel Barrios Báez, Hugo Antonio Vera Quintana, Jorge Daniel Toledo and María Teresa de Jesús Pérez, all sworn in the presence of a person authorized by law to authenticate documents and statements (supra para. 44). The following is a summary of the pertinent parts of those affidavits: